What Would Darcy Do If Elizabeth Chose Another? Welcome Austen Author, Joana Starnes and Her Lastest Release “The Unthinkable Triangle” + a Giveaway

Today, I welcome one of my fellow Austen Authors: Joana Starnes lives in the south of England with her family. A medical graduate, in more recent years she has developed an unrelated but enduring fascination with Georgian Britain in general and the works of Jane Austen in particular, as well as with the remarkable and flamboyant set of people who have given the Regency Period its charm and sparkle. 


Many thanks, Regina, for welcoming me here today, to talk about my latest release, ‘The Unthinkable Triangle’.

51j15YuXEbL._AA160_It recently occurred to me that each of my novels has a medical reference, and this one is no exception. I suppose it cannot be helped. I left the profession a while ago, but seemingly the profession did not leave me. Which is probably why I wrote a41p03mcH8CL._AA160_bout Mr. Bennet’s heart condition in ‘The Second41HLlMa-qdL._AA160_ Chance’, of Mr. Darcy’s deep cut treated with slices of agaric in ‘The Subsequent Proposal’, or of his injury acquired in a duel with Wickham in ‘The Falmouth Connection’.


51PkIOH76qL._AA160_In ‘The Unthinkable Triangle,’ as well as my first novel, ‘From This Day Forward’, which in some ways are each other’s counterpart, the medical angle goes a little deeper because, in both, Colonel Fitzwilliam is treated for severe war-related injuries under Mr. Darcy’s roof. In both novels, Darcy goes to fetch his cousin from wherever he was languishing and brings him to his house to recover under a physician’s expert care – and Elizabeth’s gentle ministrations. And in both cases, perhaps predictably, her presence at the bedside has its effects on Colonel Fitzwilliam’s tender heart.

The stark difference between the two novels is that in the first Darcy is assured of Elizabeth’s love and loyalty – they had been happily married for almost a year – while in the second the situation is reversed. Mr. Darcy is the one who seems to face the dire spectre of unrequited love, as he steadily keeps watch at his cousin’s bedside, while Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Colonel Fitzwilliam betrothed, tends the colonel.

The Unthinkable Triangle_Final coverOf course, in ‘The Unthinkable Triangle’ the role reversal does not continue till the end. I am one of those people who cannot read or write a story where Elizabeth marries anyone but Darcy. But for a while, the lovelorn Darcy seems to have no answer to his quandary – because his deep affection for his cousin makes him recoil in horror from pinning his hopes on Fitzwilliam’s death.

The following excerpt from ‘The Unthinkable Triangle’ provides a glimpse into Mr. Darcy’s struggles, as he is caught between two very different kinds of love:

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The Unthinkable Triangle
Excerpt from Chapter 5

They attended him in turns, just one of them, or alongside the doctor, or in constantly changing pairings. Beyond that first dawn, when he felt compelled to walk out and leave them to their heartfelt reunion, Darcy no longer sought to regulate his comings and goings, regardless of who was keeping watch over his cousin at the time.

It came as no surprise that, more often than not, it would be Elizabeth. Georgiana was too young and Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Annesley too old and frail to be kept by the bedside for too long. So, time and again, and especially in the grim hours of the night, they would find themselves caring for him together. Raising him to help him drink, take nourishment or cough. Cooling his brow when the fever mounted. Cajoling him into taking the vile draughts that Dr. Graham was insistently prescribing. Watching him snatch a few minutes of fitful slumber and agonising for him when his rest was disrupted by bouts of racking cough that were supposed to help, yet brought nothing but pain. Exchanging frightened glances when the horrible bouts of coughing showed no sign of abating. Rushing to bring him a warm drink when they did abate, and striving to hide their fear when the cough would recommence to torment him until he would collapse back on his pillows, exhausted and breathless.

Then they would hasten to refresh the flannels applied to his affected side, soak them in the hot decoction of camomile and elderflowers that the housekeeper had prepared at the doctor’s instructions, then wring them and spread them on his chest again. And if their hands touched as they did so, this sparked no untoward emotion in Darcy. It could not, not now. No more than sitting there watching Elizabeth stroke Fitzwilliam’s brow as she whispered tearful, disjointed words of tenderness and comfort.

It sparked no jealousy, no envy. The horrific sight of his cousin fighting for every breath – for his life, even – had drained him of all shameful jealousy, leaving just oppressive anguish.

Every past instance of begging for an answer to his heartache over Elizabeth’s engagement to his cousin returned to torture him with all the sharpness of excruciating guilt. This was not the answer he had begged for! Not this! Merciful God, not this!

‘Let him live!’ was his one and only prayer, as flashing recollections of days of boyhood came unbidden to join ranks with dark thoughts from recent months and point accusing fingers, like as many ghosts of Banquo. Unlike Macbeth’s, Darcy’s own hands were not stained in blood, but every fibre of his being knew that his cousin’s death was not the answer he had prayed for. It was not a deliverance, but the worst possible sentence.

‘Good Lord in Heaven, let him live!’

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Apothecary photo

This year in Bath, the apothecary’s trade was a new feature at the Jane Austen Festival and I had the privilege to see Mr. John S. Smith, Consultant and Performance Historian, impersonate ‘James Buchan, the Apothecary’. This is just one of the characters that Mr. Smith brings to life with such sparkle and vivacity. For more details please visit http://www.selectsociety.co.uk and you might have the great pleasure of seeing him perform, as he has many appearances in the UK and US.

No doubt for comedic value, he entertained us with tales of coughs treated with ground woodlice, of bruises cured with coins allegedly touched by King Charles I and of distempers of the brain relieved by placing the half of a shelled walnut on one’s forehead.

The real Dr. Buchan (William, not James, and physician rather than apothecary) recommended a trifle more advanced cures, and in the writing of medical scenes I owe a great deal to his treatise on Domestic Medicine published in London, with a second edition in 1785.

There I read about the well-known practices of blood-letting, blistering, cupping, purging, induced vomiting and several other methods of treatment that leave us in wonder how the patient survived the cure, as well as the disease. I also found all manner of details such as the use of an extract of sea-squills (a marine plant) as expectorant. I learned of pleurisy being treated with cabbage leaves or a combination of elderflower, camomile and mallows made into a decoction and applied to the affected side; of pectoral infusions made with linseed, liquorice root and colt’s foot leaves; of acute fevers treated with ‘infusions of the bark’ (willow bark) and ‘sweet spirit of nitre’ (a solution of ethyl nitrite in alcohol).

Of all of the above, it is only the ‘infusion of the bark’ that makes sense to the modern reader, and these days we know the extract as Aspirin. But, to my surprise, I found that, alongside the grim blistering and the leeches, Dr. Buchan also recommended precepts surprisingly in tune with modern ones, such as the benefit of fresh air in the sickroom, limiting visitors to reduce the risk of infection, or not overloading a shivering and feverish patient with bedcovers.

So I must thank Dr. Buchan for teaching me how to treat Colonel Fitzwilliam’s injuries. Perhaps I should say that, either thanks to or in spite of the treatment, he recovers. If you would like to learn what happens next, please leave a comment to enter the international giveaway of one Kindle copy. And be not alarmed, the few medical references are there just to add a little Regency colour. My fascination with old-fashioned medicine is my own and, just as the excerpt shows, ‘The Unthinkable Triangle’ is very much a love-story, not a medical treatise. That task must be left to Dr. Buchan. Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the story.

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About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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25 Responses to What Would Darcy Do If Elizabeth Chose Another? Welcome Austen Author, Joana Starnes and Her Lastest Release “The Unthinkable Triangle” + a Giveaway

  1. Anji says:

    As a modern day apothecary, I’m so thankful that I live in the 21st century. At University, we had two courses in my first year: History of Medicine and History of Pharmacy. Wish I’d listened a bit better as nowadays I’m finding this sort of thing fascinating. My reading in recent years has brought some of it back to me: all of the Sharpe novels, Joana’s books and other JAFF works.

    So many of the medical practices in Regency times do indeed sound as if they’d finish the patient off rather than cure them. Laudanum seems to have been used as a remedy for anything and everything. Even teeting babies were given it. No wonder there were so many problems with addiction.

    I’ll be checking out John Smith’s website as I’d love to see his performance as Mr Buchan for obvious reasons. Joana, did you catch the TV series here in the UK a few years ago, called The Victorian Pharmacy? That was very interesting – a little more enlightened than the Regency but still a long way to go to reach modern practices. Even nowadays, quite a lot of the things we were taught at Uni 40 years ago (yes, I am that old!) have been superceded.

    Thanks for the post ladies, and another lovely extract, Joana.

    • Thanks for the lovely comment, Anji, especially the ‘modern-day apothecary’ part.
      We really should get together one day for a loong chat, I’m sure we’d have a great time since we have so much in common, not just the membership of the ‘Let’s torture Darcy’ Club & the ‘Major Sharpe Appreciation Society’ 😉

      Same as you, I wish I had paid more attention to lectures on the history of medicine and pharmacy and also that I kept the books I had to study from, rather than take them to the charity shop as soon as I finished the course. But who knew what I’d be doing 25 years later? (Yes, I’m that old too 😀 )

      I’m so sorry to have I missed the Victorian Pharmacy documentary, I love that sort of thing, even if it’s terrifying to think of the practices and worse still, the toxic substances inflicted on the poor patients! Hope you get to see one of Mr Smith’s performances, he’s absolutely brilliant!

      I’m so glad you liked this excerpt too! Good luck and ‘see’ you soon.

  2. Pam Hunter says:

    Loved the excerpt, but that’s no surprise as I’ve loved all of your novels. :-).

    Thanks for the giveaway! :::crossing my fingers:::

    • Thanks, Pam, your kind words are much appreciated! I’m thrilled to hear you enjoyed reading my other novels and I hope you’ll like this one as well! Best of luck in the giveaway and yes, fingers crossed 🙂

  3. Jennifer Redlarczyk says:

    Well as long as you say it’s HEA for D&E in the end, I’m in. I too have been fascinated by the medical treatment, deficiencies of the times, not to mention the lack of hygiene associated with everyday living, and the lack of water reclamation and garbage disposal. Horrors to live in those times, even though we find the world of Jane Austen very romantic.

    • HEA guarranteed, Jen 😉
      People often ask me (non-JAFF people, JAFF friends don’t need to ask) what on earth do I see in an era that has no sanitation worth speaking of, no antibiotics and a shocking childbirth mortality rate, not to mention social inequality. But every era has its drawbacks and its facets of beauty. So I think that when they invent that time machine, as long as I can be sure I won’t end up in some scullery or digging the fields, I’d probably still take my chances 😉
      Thanks for the comment and the vote of confidence and good luck!

  4. Vesper says:

    I have read a fan fiction novel which Elizabeth and the Colonel are married, and Darcy is also happily married, it was strange to read but still enjoyable.

    • Strange indeed and maybe a bit of a challenge! Can you remember the author and the title? I might be tempted to give it a go, since you say they were happy.

  5. tgruy says:

    Poor Colonel! But a very interesting glimpse into treating sickness in that era. Thanks for the excerpt.

  6. I have enjoyed your novels and look forward to reading this one. Thank you.

  7. Nicole DAC says:

    Oh, if there was not a Mr. Darcy, I would love Colonel Fitzwilliam best of all 🙂 It breaks my heart when he is injured but it’s so nice when Elizabeth and Darcy are there to nurse him back to health. Can’t wait to see how the relationships are all sorted out.

    • I often veer back and forth, Nicole. The dear Colonel has almost everything in his favour: charm, good-humour, common sense, loyalty, strength of character, willingness to appreciate people for who they are and not be swayed by the opinions of others, no arrogance, no improper pride. But… with all his faults, Darcy is Darcy. I sometimes wish Elizabeth had a twin sister 😉
      Thanks for stopping by and for the lovely comment. Can’t wait to see what you think of the whole book when you get to read it.

  8. Betty Campbell Madden says:

    This was such an enjoyable book. . .another read-in-a-day delight for me. Keep up the excellent work, please.

  9. Maureen C says:

    Interesting excerpt. I just can’t imagine some of the common treatment methods from that time period. It reminds me of the times I have been to Gettysburg and looked at the surgical tools used during the Civil War. As much as I love reading period stories, I’m not sure how I would have dealt with the living conditions and medical treatments.

    I am looking forward to reading this book. I can’t wait to see how you tie everything together.

    • Thanks, Maureen. Indeed, what passed for medical treatment in those days is utterly horrifying. I can imagine that seeing the surgical tools in Gettysburg must have been a grim eye-opener, and the fact that they had no real understanding of the real causes of infection and it would be years until they thought of sterilising anything makes you weep for all those poor people.
      I’m so glad this book caught your eye and I hope you’ll enjoy it. Thanks for stopping by to read and comment and good luck in the giveaway.

  10. Sorry that I am late to the table, Joana. I was on the road dodging road construction some 2.5 hours before this post went live. Sharon, Rose, Elizabeth Ann, Melanie, Sarah, and I are wishing you were here at AGM. Thanks for joining me today.

    • Thanks ever so much for inviting me, Regina, and for all your kindness and warm welcome, it means an awful lot to me! Sorry to hear about the roadworks on the way to the AGM, what a nuisance. Wishing you a wonderful time, now that you got there, and I hope that you lovely ladies are enjoying every minute. Hugs to you all, I so wish I was there with you!!

      • They changed the Ironman face in Louisville from the summer heat to this weekend. It will be a challenge getting out of here on Sunday. LOL! Never a dull moment.

  11. Dung says:

    One reason I would not like to live the Regency era is the lack of modern medicine and I can forget hygiene! Joana, you had hinted that you were going to write a sequel so that the Col Fitzwilliam will have a HEA as well. Is it just an idea or have you already started to write it? If so, when can we anticipate the release date? 😁

    • Same here, Dung Vu! But I guess we wouldn’t have known any better 😉

      The idea of a sequel sprang a little while ago from a Twitter conversation with one of the reviewers of ‘The Unthinkable Triangle’, who would have liked to read more about how the Colonel reached his own HEA. As the book is largely written from Darcy’s perspective (and from Elizabeth’s too, once the pair become closer), all they know about the Colonel’s thoughts and feelings is what he decides to put in sanitised letters home. So I think the lady is right, it would be rather sweet to have his own POV. Not in ‘The Unthinkable Triangle’, it might distract from the story, so I won’t publish a slightly longer second version that dwells a bit more on him. But I think I’ll enjoy writing that sequel and, much as it would be from Colonel Fitzwilliam’s POV, the newly married Darcys would play a very large part in it. I have started to write it, but it’s very early days yet, just thoughts of what might happen and when, a few scenes and the contents of a ‘Dear Richard’ letter, but it’s bound to be quite some time until I know the release date. Sorry and huge thanks for asking!

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